Are you a great problem solver? Great entrepreneurs are often great problem solvers. They find a way to overcome the challenges and problems they constantly face and to get it done and make it happen. In today’s episode, I’m going to tell you a story about the first business conference I attended, and the challenge we faced. 

My First Conference

I launched Adoption.com in February 1997. Just two months later, in April 1997 the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys was holding a conference in Sanibel, Florida. At this time, I was a college student with no money. But my business at that moment was based on an advertising model, and I knew many of my potential advertisers were going to be at that conference. I knew if I missed that opportunity to meet those adoption attorneys it would be another year before I had the opportunity again. And, I needed their advertising dollars to get my business through that year. 

So, I used my credit card to buy flights, purchase a vendor table, and reserve a hotel room.  I wanted to show our Adoption.com site to the conference attendees, so they could visualize what their listings and advertising would look like and where it would be placed on the site. Back then, online advertising was very new. Monitors at that time were far too big, expensive, and delicate to reasonably take on a flight as checked baggage. So, I rented a large screen monitor in Sanibel, which back then probably weighed more than 50 pounds, and arranged for it to be delivered at the hotel.

As the day of the conference arrived, we went to the airport to catch our flight. However, we discovered there was a winter storm in Denver, where our flight had a layover. The Denver airport was closed and all flights going through Denver, including my flight, were canceled. The airline could put me on a flight the next day, but that meant I would miss the first day of the conference. I couldn’t take another flight that could get me to Sanibel in time for the conference. And, frankly, I didn’t have the money to buy a last-minute flight on another airline, even if there had been another option. 

I was determined our vendor table was going to be set up and ready for the adoption attorneys when they showed up on the first day of the event. As I later learned, the first day of the conference has the most traffic and engagement by far at the vendor tables. The conference attendees may visit the vendor tables once at the beginning of the conference and then never visit again.

Plan B 

After pleading, the same airline was eventually able to re-book us to go through a different city that didn’t have weather issues, and we were scheduled to arrive on the other side of Florida late that night. We took it. When we arrived, we rented a car and drove across Florida through the night. I don’t think we slept at all that night. But, we arrived in Sanibel and had time to set up our table and the monstrous monitor before the conference attendees arrived.

I think we made a good impression at that first conference. We established many relationships that day that become friends and advertisers for a long time. Those adoption attorneys provided much-needed income for my startup venture. That adoption conference and those relationships were pivotal in helping adoption.com become the #1 adoption site. 

There was another startup adoption site at that conference, but over time they didn’t make it, and I don’t even remember their name now. What would have happened if we had not been there, and that competitor had made that impression and established those relationships instead of us? What would have happened if I wouldn’t have had the revenue from those adoption attorneys during my first year?

Entrepreneurs are Problem Solvers

My lesson learned from this story is that it feels an entrepreneur’s job description includes being a perpetual problem solver. It feels like every day there is a series of problems and challenges that entrepreneurs have to face and overcome. Are you a good problem solver? If yes, then, you might be a good entrepreneur. 

I learned the term “self-efficacy” years later. According to Wikipedia and Albert Bandura, “A person with high self-efficacy views challenges as things that are supposed to be mastered rather than threats to avoid. These people are able to recover from failure faster and are more likely to attribute failure to lack of effort. They approach threatening situations with the belief that they can control them.”

As entrepreneurs, we must have high self-efficacy. It is our job as entrepreneurs to find the solution, to find a way to get it done and make it happen, even if that means flying to the other side of the state and driving through the night so you can arrive at the conference before the attendees arrive.

So that we don’t have to solve the problems by ourselves, it’s smart for entrepreneurs to find, hire and retain team members who are great problem solvers as well. My job postings regularly say that I’m looking for a “get-it-done, make-it-happen” person who can help solve problems and overcome challenges. 

The most successful people see adversity not as a stumbling block, but as a stepping stone to greatness. – Shawn Anchor

Key Takeaways

Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

  1. Entrepreneurs are perpetual problem solvers and find a way to get things done and make things happen.
  2. We should strive to have strong self-efficacy and see challenges as things that are supposed to be mastered rather than threats to avoid.
  3. We should hire and retain team members who are also great problem solvers. 
  4. Let’s use our stumbling blocks as stepping stones to greatness. 

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